Three Saints enjoy golden holiday moment
There’s is no better feeling than being on top of the world. Unless of course it’s actually being the best in the world.
That’s exactly where a trio of Spruce Grove Saints, Tyler Busch, Brandon Biro and Mat-thew Murray, found themselves sitting just before Christmas as they clinched the cham-pionship with Team Canada West in the 2015 World Jr. A Challenge in Whitby, ONT.
Created in 2006 to showcase the talent at the Jr. A level in 10 leagues from across the country, the event for many is the first time they get the chance to suit up with the Maple Leaf on their chest. Besides two Canadian teams, West and East, the event included teams from the USA, Russia, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland.
With this being his second go-round at the tourney, Busch, the Saints captain, said this outing was much more enjoyable, result-wise, than his first experience in 2014.
“I learned a lot in the first year and with three guys coming back (to Team West) this year, it was a lot different,” he began. “It was a bit of a fresh start. There was definitely a different feel to it. The first year I just tried to take it all in. This year, I focused on trying to succeed and really win a gold medal. That was really the only thing on my mind.”
For Biro, this experience from the start was different in many ways than that of his teammate. He went into the tryout camp fresh off a lower body injury which had kept him out of the Saints everyday lineup for over a month. That though, he explained, didn’t deter his efforts to make the roster even though 33 forwards entered the camp, of which only 13 made the final cut.
“I was obviously hoping my ankle would be good enough to play,” he began about his approach to the camp. “I wasn’t really focusing on it being Team Canada and I have to make it. I was just going out to play the way I had been before I got hurt. That’s been my approach to how I’ve always gone about it.”
Given that the eventual roster was made up of players from 14 different teams and three different leagues, Biro, who was the Saints top scorer before going down with the injury, said some guys had to undertake different roles than they played with their club team.
“I think it was a lot of sacrifice. I know the guys that made the team were the scorers on their (club) team but you can’t have a full team of scorers so a lot of guys had to take dif-ferent roles. Some guys had to take checking roles, stuff like that.”
As for his role, Biro, who had two power play goals in the tournament said, “I did a little more hitting than I usually do, but I tried not to do that because I’m not very good at it! So, I tried to play the same game, tried to trade chances and thought I did pretty good overall. It took a lot of sacrifice from different guys and they did a good job of that.”
Murray turned out to be the hero for the West in the end, turning in a superb effort in the gold medal game against Russia, which his side won 2-1. The second-year player with the Saints said he was surprised he got the nod to start every game in the tournament, where he shone with a 2.75 GAA and a .912 save percentage. Included in that was that wild 8-5 win over Canada East and the nail biter vs Russia where he gave up his only goal with less than 40 seconds left in the game.
He, like the others, faced tough odds in even making this elite squad. Six goalies from across Western Canada were invited to the tryouts with two making the final grade. As it turned out, the Saints tender did more than simply make the team playing every period of the tournament, other than half of their only exhibition game.
“You just have to approach it by believing in yourself and as long as you know in your mind you can do your best and do whatever you want,” he said of how he undertook making the squad.
He agreed that it may have been a slight help in the fact head coach Tim Fragle, from the Sherwood Park Crusaders knew who he was and the style he played, but again, this was simply talent winning out in the long run. The fact he played every minute of the tourney took him by surprise but it was a challenge he loved.
“I didn’t expect to play every single game, but as the games went on, after each game I played I knew I did enough to at least deserve a chance to start that next game.”
In returning a second time to the tournament, which was held in Saskatchewan his first year, Busch said as one of three guys on Team Canada West who had been down this road before he took more of a leadership role than before in the one week, high-intensity competition. This time around, Busch had two goals, including the clincher in an 8-5 semi-final win over Team Canada East.
“I think it’s tough for some kids their first time around, wearing the Canada jersey and stuff. You can kind of be taken back by the moment so I tried to play a role where I made everyone feel comfortable. Tried to make it more of a calm environment where guys could come to the rink and play rather than being worried about who they’re playing.”
When all was said and done, the Saints players came home on top of the world. This ex-perience, they all agreed, will go a long way in helping them during the stretch drive this season and also aid them in helping their teammates be ready to do what it takes to win.
“It’s a pretty special feeling to put that Canada jersey on for the first time, and to win gold, you really can’t describe how that feels,” Biro said. “What I bring back is what it takes to play with guys that good and where you have to be (talent-wise) to get to the next level because those are the guys you’re going to be competing against at the next level.”
For Busch, the lessons learned about game preparation will serve him well going forward.
“It’s a whole new level of taking care of yourself off the ice which is the biggest thing, I think. We were on the ice every day and it was such a high level of compete there. Taking care of your body, getting the right rest and nutrition are so important so it’s important we take care of ourselves,” as the Saints go forward in the post-season.
For Murray, who likely drew plenty of notice fro scouts with his outstanding play in the tourney, he feels he brings more experience back to his club team.
‘Representing a country instead of a town is a different feeling. Maturity is probably the biggest part with the crowd sizes as big as they were. You have to keep calm when things don’t go well,” something that never really happened for these three during the 2015 edi-tion of the World Jr. A Challenge.